|Two Parables: Even the best are subject to review.
||[Sep. 24th, 2007|10:37 am]
Title: One of Those
Notes: Stand-alone. Not connected to anything. Have one on the house.
Summary: In the grand scheme of things, a day can make all the difference.
Aziraphale wasn't in the habit of drinking alone, but there were only so many times he could catch Crowley's ansaphone before getting irritated at himself for not knowing it was the ansaphone until the third go, at which point he dropped the bloody machine back in its cradle and stalked off to the cabinet.
Humans were forever going on about how they'd had One of Those Days. For the most part, Aziraphale had always just smiled and nodded politely: in the grand scheme of things, such as it was, one day was really no different from the one before it or the one after it. Days…were. It was a difficult concept to convey to his customers, so he usually just gave up and pointed them to Self-Help. They liked that.
There didn't seem to be adequate solutions in those books, and where books failed, alcohol was a surety. Preferably alcohol shared with another person, but he'd live.
Aziraphale was halfway through his last bottle of brandy when Crowley walked in without so much as a greeting. If he squinted, the demon looked exactly as he always had except for a few points off, such as the glasses creeping down the bridge of his nose and his hair looking as if the stylist hadn't done such a good job of it this time.
"Sorry," he muttered, slinking into the chair across from Aziraphale. "Ran late."
"You've got, um, things on your forehead," Aziraphale said, offering him the bottle.
Crowley brushed the clippings away in irritation, snatching the bottle not quite fast enough to prevent their fingers from brushing. Aziraphale's head was already a bit fuzzy, and Crowley's skin felt like the warmth there, muddled and familiar.
"The trouble with humans," said Crowley, taking a drink, "is that they can't see."
"S'true," Aziraphale said, swilling his glass. He'd started drinking for exactly that reason, or some reason similar to it. Mostly he was just happy to see Crowley.
"I mean, He bothers to give them these two little gadgets that can pick up everything within range of…anyway, a lot," Crowley said, pausing, "and half the time they just don't use them properly, or go getting them damaged. This stuff's good. More?"
Aziraphale shook his head, then waved his hand to refill the bottle.
"Mm. Anyway, eyes," Crowley said, taking a fast swig. "Useful. Under-appreciated."
"To be fair, dear boy," Aziraphale said, sizing up approximately where Crowley had set the bottle on the table, reaching for it, "they can't, er…improve them the way we can."
"That's no excuse," Crowley said, shoving the bottle at him sulkily. Maybe the hair wasn't so bad now that he'd run his fingers all through it and put it back to normal.
"I s'pose not," Aziraphale said, pouring about a quarter of the bottle on the table before giving up and doing what Crowley had done. "They miss a bloody lot."
Crowley stared at him for a few seconds, frowning.
"You started early."
"You weren't home," Aziraphale said defensively, clutching the bottle to his chest. "I have a hard time of it sometimes, too, you know. Today was wretched."
"I've never seen you pout like that," Crowley said, fascinated. "Continue."
"'M not pouting."
"Don't you ever wish," Aziraphale said, setting the bottle back on the table, "that they'd see you? I mean, really see you? For what you are and all that."
Crowley snorted and snatched the brandy.
"Didn't think so," Aziraphale sighed, depressed. He'd forgotten to fill his glass, and Crowley was drinking straight from the bottle again, dribbling a bit down his chin.
"What d'you mean, exactly?" he asked, wiping his chin on his sleeve before realizing what he'd done. He hissed at the mark on his perfect white shirt cuff, and it vanished.
"Don't you get tired of…of people thinking you're…people?"
"You're drunk, angel."
"Am not," Aziraphale insisted, "and don't you?"
Crowley frowned at the bottle, scratching at the corner of the label.
"Kind of," he mumbled.
"This conversation is getting circuitous."
"My dear, you haven't had enough," Aziraphale said. "Listen, it's…like they wouldn't see even if, I don't know, I got out…something…and said, 'You there! I'm…'"
"You're cracked, that's what," Crowley said, reaching across the table to pat his hand.
He'd had words for this, really, but they weren't coming to him, and Crowley touching his hand like that, gentle and kind of soothing, was a distraction.
"'You there! I'm an'angel!' Big wings and whatnot. Buggers are blind."
"Well, that could be troublesome," Crowley said, taking a thoughtful swallow of brandy. "We couldn't have them going around in hysterics, blowing our cover."
"But I get tired," Aziraphale heard himself whine, "of being missed."
Crowley set the bottle down, stared at him again, and sighed.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"I knew you'd understand," Aziraphale said, and reached across the table for Crowley's hand before he could pull it away. "'Least you see."
"I don't think I have any choice," Crowley said, blinking at Aziraphale's hand.
"'Course you do," Aziraphale said, squeezing Crowley's fingers. "You could go."
Crowley looked up at him, distinctly offended.
"Oh, is that it? You left three false-starts on my ansaphone just to get me out here so you could complain, then—"
"No," Aziraphale said, dimly aware that he ought to be panicking. "Jus' look, it was…they don't see," he repeated when nothing was forthcoming. "They just…don't."
"And I do?" Crowley asked, staring down again.
"Yes," Aziraphale said quietly, withdrawing his hand.
"Oh," Crowley said, rising. "D'you want to go someplace people can see us?"
"No," Aziraphale said, looking up at him. His head had cleared just enough for him to know he was probably pleading, and that was all right, because Crowley didn't seem to be in the mood to laugh at him, and he also wanted Crowley to touch him again.
"Oh," Crowley repeated, glancing nervously around the room. "In that case, um…"
"As long as you see," Aziraphale said, realizing he'd better come to some kind of conclusion, "I think it's all right that they don't. Um. Would you like some tea?"
"That's all right," Crowley said, and took Aziraphale's hand, pulling him to his feet. "Sober up, would you? Either that or get some more brandy so I can catch up."
"Mm," Aziraphale said absently, running his thumb across the back of Crowley's hand.
"Right," Crowley said, and tugged him toward the stairs.
Title: Seven Deadly Signs You're Going to Fail
Notes: This story was born on Sunday during a discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Cardinal Virtues with jennaria. I was still valiantly working on a final paper at the time, or so I was trying to convince myself. I'd like to dedicate this piece to all of my fellow university seniors (and to all of you grad students) now ploughing their way through finals and dissertations. Even the ethereals have it rough.
Summary: It's like renewing your driving license, only worse.
It wasn't unusual for Aziraphale's phone to ring at ten in the morning, as that was when Crowley usually woke up and remembered what he'd been complaining about over dinner. Aziraphale was slightly annoyed that he hadn't stayed the night and saved himself the trouble of calling, but heaven forbid Crowley should be practical.
He'd said something about having an appointment in the morning, which was just as well, as Aziraphale had one, too, and it was of the sort best got over with quickly.
"Crowley?" he asked the receiver, wary.
"Yes, who'd you think it was? One of your esteemed clients?"
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Aziraphale said more reasonably than he should have, shuffling some dusty receipts into a pile. Prudence, he told himself.
"You must have been pretending not to hear me last night, then."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I asked if you'd give me a ring to make sure I was up. 'Of course, my dear,' mustn't mean what it meant last time I checked."
"I was going to wait half an hour!" Aziraphale protested, feeling control slip away from him. He pounded the desk lightly with his fist. "I'm not your desk service!"
"Hm," Crowley said, sounding more thoughtful than sleepy. "That's not bad."
"Yes," Aziraphale said through gritted teeth, "it is."
"You had better call a bit earlier next time. If I hadn't got up now, I'd be running—"
"I'm sure the phone call isn't helping," Aziraphale replied, trying to calm down. He glanced longingly at the kitchenette, wishing he could reach the teapot.
"Well, no, but," Crowley said hastily, "it's not until eleven, and, you know—"
"My dear, what's this all about?"
"Nothing, really," Crowley babbled. "Really."
"I see," Aziraphale sighed. "Routine temptation?"
"You might say that."
"Not exactly. Er. Not far."
"You really could've spared yourself the trouble," Aziraphale sighed, waving his hand. The teapot drifted in obediently and settled itself on the desk in front of him, followed by an old, chipped mug from a bank that Aziraphale hadn't ended up patronizing.
"Look, I know you've got work to do," Crowley snapped. "Do you think they appreciate it when I put somebody else first?"
"Who? Crowley, I don't—"
"Shit," Crowley muttered, distracted. "Got to go. Later."
The line clicked dead. Aziraphale sighed and set the phone back in its cradle, then poured himself a full mug of tea. It was probably stewed by now, but that was nobody's fault but his own, and he hadn't finished reviewing by a long shot.
* * *
The demon across the table from Crowley was doing about as good an impression of a human as Hastur could do. Dagon had a tired air about him that seemed to be as much a side effect of the room having no ventilation as anything else. Crowley had already taken off his jacket and was in the process of unbuttoning his collar. Dagon watched him impatiently, but not unkindly, and that gave Crowley a bit of hope.
"It's, um," Crowley said, managing a smile, "been a while, hasn't it?"
"A millennium, to be exact," Dagon droned, adjusting his spectacles. "Standard."
"Yes, my," Crowley said, crossing his legs, then uncrossing them again. "Time flies."
Dagon's look was flat and unamused.
"I haven't got all day," he said, tapping the lengthy list written on parchment that lay spread out in front of him. He reached for a clipboard, which had a piece of paper clipped to it. It was printed with seven lines of words followed by tick-boxes.
"New format, I see," Crowley said, momentarily pleased. Somebody had obviously been listening to him. "Keen. Much more efficient, I'm sure, and—"
"Name," Dagon said, setting his pen point to the line at the top of the page.
"A—" Crowley bit his tongue, wincing, and hissed something instead.
Dagon's pen moved in a complicated flourish, then moved to the first box.
"Hast thou been Prideful in all thy dealings with mankind and thy fellow demons?"
Crowley blinked. He'd been expecting more updated language.
"Yes," he said, adjusting his sunglasses.
"Hast thou incited Pride at every opportunity thou hast been given?"
"Of course," Crowley replied, thinking of the girl at the cinema. Aziraphale had given him the nastiest look he'd gotten in recent memory, so that probably counted double.
Dagon grunted and drew a check-mark, satisfied. Crowley breathed a sigh of relief. Some things, they could just take, and it was easier that way. Besides, Crowley prided himself on his pride. He was willing to show off the Bentley if he had to.
"Art thou Envious," Dagon intoned, "in all thy dealings with—"
"I get the gist," Crowley said, leaning forward on the table. "Yeah. All the time."
Dagon blinked at him, apparently unimpressed.
"I want your hat," Crowley said earnestly, not at all convincing.
"Clever," Dagon grunted, and made another check.
"Wait, don't you need to know if I've incited—"
"I already know," Dagon snarled, jabbing the pen point into the third box. "Hast thou been Wrathful in all thy dealings with mankind and thy fellow demons?"
"Plenty," Crowley said, beginning to feel a bit nervous. He'd hit it off pretty well, he thought, but the questions got harder as you went on even if the phrasing didn't change. "I told off a waiter when the food was almost an hour late, and the last time I saw Ligur, I really gave it to him." He was glad everybody had amnesia.
"Very well," Dagon murmured, frowning, but checked off the box anyway.
"Hey, wait," Crowley said. "This one day about twelve years ago, I tied up every—"
"Sloth," Dagon said, glaring impatiently.
"I oversleep all the time," Crowley said. "Just ask my associates."
Crowley felt an uncomfortable sensation gathering in his stomach. It had less to do with the fact that he hadn't got Aziraphale to sleep in that morning and more to do with the fact that it was usually Aziraphale who tempted him to a lie-in these days.
"Not this morning, but usually," he said vaguely. "Er, I mean my associates. Bloody insomniacs, you know, but a few of them are impressionable."
Dagon frowned more deeply than before, but Crowley earned another check.
"How many times do I have to tell you that you ought to do away with that one? It's too similar to Envy. Chances are, if you're envious, you want something, and that's Avarice. Do you really want to hear the same stories over again?"
Dagon hissed through clenched teeth and ticked it off. "Don't push it," he warned. "Hast thou been Gluttonous in…" He squinted at the paper and made a few red marks on the sentence, then glanced up at Crowley in irritation. "Well?"
Crowley laughed nervously.
"Do I have to tell you how often I eat out?"
"Point," said Dagon, and checked off the box. A slow, menacing smile spread across his features. "Crawly, I must say, you're passing with flying colors. It's customary to take an intermission before the seventh; would you care for any torments?"
"No thanks," Crowley said. "I'm over my limit for the month. Can we just—"
"I don't like you," Dagon said, sounding almost proud. "You're an efficient one. I see why we've got you up there. Real discredit to the force, you know. Anyway, this last one's a freebie, I always say, so you're getting off easy."
"Haha," Crowley said, grinning and terrified. "Right."
"Hast thou," Dagon said, fairly leering at the paper, "been Lustful in all thy dealings with mankind and thy fellow demons?"
The uncomfortable sensation in Crowley's stomach blossomed into something aching and fierce. Lust-centric temptations, those were more Hastur's speed, so he'd more or less left well enough alone. Humans and sex made for a bad combination, and Crowley stayed out of it as often as he could. As for his fellow demons, what they did was their business. If living in London had taught him anything, it was that you didn't go nosing into other people's affairs no matter how evil you were supposed to be.
"Crawly?" Dagon prompted, tapping the clipboard.
Crowley cleared his throat, shifting in his chair, which had spikes as it was.
"I was just thinking of, um, you know…"
"No," Dagon said in a dangerous tone, "I don't."
Shit. It was one thing to close himself off to Aziraphale or the occasional overly psychic human, but it was quite another to do it in the presence of one's superiors, and to make matters worse, it was so much a matter of habit when it came to his private life that he hardly gave it a thought. Great, but what was he supposed to do? He couldn't very well have Dagon catching him wishing he'd had a nice, thorough snog the night before and possibly a really spectacular orgasm—with the Enemy.
"I remember you having trouble with this one," Dagon said, sounding as if he was enjoying this. "You've been under your Lust quota for the past five millennia."
"It's private," Crowley croaked, lapsing back into English.
Dagon just looked at him, thoughtful.
"I mean, really," Crowley went on, gesturing hopelessly. "I don't think you'd want to hear the details of my, er, exploits any more than I'd like to hear about your—"
"I'll take this as a sign of progress," Dagon said curtly, and checked off the box. "Though I use the term loosely, you understand. Very loosely."
"Yessssir," Crowley hissed, sagging in relief.
"Sign here," Dagon said, handing him the clipboard and pen.
Crowley did—his proper signature, which vanished—and got the hell out of there.
* * *
Gabriel had the harried look of an angel who spent most of his time cooped up at a desk, which was exactly the case. Aziraphale pulled up a chair before Gabriel could ask him to sit down, simply grateful he hadn't been assigned to Michael.
"They really ought to see about getting you some help," Aziraphale said, eyeing Gabriel's overflowing in-box. "That's quite a lot of paperwork."
"Someone has to do it," Gabriel sighed. He cleared away some complicated-looking parchment forms and located his clipboard under a pile of unsigned commendations. "There, now. You're my first today. I'm running a bit behind."
"I'm sure no one's counting," Aziraphale said reassuringly, and instantly regretted it.
"I'll be damned if that lout gets Employee of the Millennium again, do you understand me?" Gabriel hissed under his breath. He very seldom got angry, so that made the times when he did especially memorable. And somehow made him more likeable.
"Er," replied Aziraphale, sitting up straight. "Perfectly."
"Wonderful," Gabriel said. He fished around for a pen and found one, frowning as he tested it on the corner of the evaluation form. He tossed it aside and picked up another one. "Much better," he said, scribbling red in the margin. "Your name, please."
Aziraphale said it.
"Mmhmm," Gabriel hummed, writing it in the space at the top. "Are you familiar with the procedure, or would you like me to review the instructions?"
"No, but thank you," Aziraphale said biting his lip. Excessive politeness became Gabriel about as well as excessive zeal became Michael. Zeal. Oh dear, he hadn't—
"Have you exercised Faith in all your dealings with mankind and your fellow angels?"
"Yes," said Aziraphale warily. The Honor Code was frightfully routine, when it came down to it: they assumed you were telling the truth, unless they happened to know you were lying. You always hoped for Gabriel, too, because he was more likely to be lazy than Michael, but it seemed that this time he was rather determined.
Gabriel hummed again, scratching his chin with the pen, and made half a check mark.
"Have you encouraged Faith at every opportunity you've been given?"
Aziraphale stared at his hands, which were folded neatly in his lap. These days, he found, faith was a somewhat subjective thing, and he'd also met a lot of people in recent months who had taught him a thing or two about it. He looked up, nodding.
Gabriel completed the check mark, satisfied, and set his pen point on the next line.
"Have you been Hopeful in all your dealings—"
"I'm dreadfully sorry to interrupt," Aziraphale said, "but if you're concerned about getting through these in a timely matter, it's quite all right. And yes, I have."
"I'm supposed to follow procedure," Gabriel said irritably, checking off the box. "But that counts as Charity, and you always were a shining example of that, so I'm going to let that one as is," he said, checking the next box, too.
Aziraphale swallowed, wondering whether or not that was a good sign.
"That brings us up to Prudence," Gabriel said, scrutinizing Aziraphale. "You have, I take it, been Prudent in all your dealings with mankind and your fellow angels?"
"Of course. As a reputable businessman, I find it absolutely essential that—"
"Oh, yes," Gabriel said hastily, scribbling another check mark. "I had forgotten about that. You've been in merchandise for a long time, haven't you?"
"Not really," Aziraphale said modestly. "Since the fourteenth century, at any rate."
"Never over on your expenditures," Gabriel said vaguely, flipping through a pile of papers to his right that Aziraphale hadn't noticed before. "Never over on your Temperance quotas, either," he said, glancing up with a look of mild reproach.
Bugger, Aziraphale thought. He never had been able to keep Prudence and Temperance straight, and the two were so similar that it hardly—
"Do try to be a bit more patient," Gabriel sighed. "I'm sure you'll find that there are beings down there who won't take snappishness with nearly as much grace as I do," he said, and made a small, hesitant check in the Temperance box. "You didn't say that out loud, so I'm obligated to give you some credit."
"Terribly sorry," Aziraphale muttered, staring at his hands again, cheeks hot.
"At least you've got different swears from the ones I usually put up with," Gabriel said under his breath, then said sternly, "Have you exercised Fortitude in all your dealings with mankind and your fellow angels?"
"In abundance," Aziraphale said. If he hadn't learned to do that long ago, Crowley would've caused him considerably more pain and hardship than he had, though these days pain and hardship usually meant that Crowley talked his ear off or tempted him into trying out some new restaurant when he should've been catching up on his taxes or that backlog of miracles that he'd had sitting around for a few centuries.
"I see," Gabriel said, making another half-check. "Have you encouraged it?"
"More by example than directly," Aziraphale admitted, fighting the urge to chew his thumbnail. He'd just been to his manicurist the week before, and damage this early could prove devastating. He folded his hands more tightly.
"Your area of expertise, example," Gabriel said with restrained approval, and let his pen hover over the last tick-box. "This last one, I trust, is very simple. You always did strike me as the Zealous sort."
Aziraphale closed his eyes for a moment, which was probably the grandest mistake of his career. He knew he'd been remiss somewhere. He wondered if wielding the sword again had counted. He wondered if he could get away with saying his passion for books was just a notch short of divine. He knew, deep down, that Crowley counted, but what good would it do to let his superiors know that he'd been putting nearly all of his heart, might, mind, and strength into keeping the Enemy happy?
"This had better be important," Gabriel said testily.
"That's a bit personal, don't you think?" Aziraphale managed finally, opening his eyes, giving Gabriel a level look. "Rather like Faith, come to think of it."
"Reminds me of why I tried getting you assigned to Michael," he muttered, and checked off the last box. "You're free to go. We're grateful for your time."
"Much obliged," Aziraphale said, feeling somewhat lightheaded, and stood up.
"Wait," Gabriel said, holding out the pen and clipboard. "Sign here."
Aziraphale did, and floated away.
* * *
"I," Crowley announced, downing his wine, "hereby claim the entire bottle."
"Hardly," Aziraphale said, snatching it off Crowley's coffee table.
Crowley grabbed it, almost knocking Aziraphale's glass out of his hand.
"I've had a rough day."
"Not to change the subject, but so have I."
Crowley considered the angel for a few seconds, deciding that the swimmy effect his vision had going on probably suggested that he'd had enough to drink. He let go of the bottle, pressing it to Aziraphale's chest. "You win," he said. "It's your turn."
"Is it?" asked Aziraphale, drinking straight from the bottle before setting it carefully on the floor. "I haven't been keeping track."
"My memory's better than yours," Crowley said, dropping his glass on the carpet, and crawled into Aziraphale's lap. "And I say it's bloody well your turn. Your lot can't afford to have me beating you all the time, can they?"
"I suppose not," Aziraphale said, looking suddenly hazy and very pleased with the turn things had taken. He set his hands on Crowley's shoulders and let them slide down to Crowley's elbows in one slow caress.
Crowley shivered, unable to sort out what was the wine and what was Aziraphale's touch. "You're too good at this for the side you're on," he said.
"You're too receptive."
"Weak willpower," Crowley corrected, running his fingers through Aziraphale's untidy hair, trying to get it to stay off his forehead. "Falls in there somewhere. Lust."
"I like to think of it as Zeal," Aziraphale said thoughtfully. He pushed Crowley's loose collar aside, leaning to nuzzle his collarbone. He kissed the spot, then bit gently.
"Call it whatever you want," Crowley sighed, settling in with a decisive wriggle that got rid of some of their clothes, but not all of them. One had to be a proper tease.
"A passing mark," Aziraphale said, somewhat choked, and kissed him soundly.
"Flying colors," Crowley agreed, wrapping his wings around them both.